After around two years since its market debut, Renault Duster has once again incarnated itself in more rugged all-wheel drive avatar. Called as Duster AWD, Renault has added another feather to the cap of its very practical and city- friendly SUV. In fact this is the best thing that could have happened to Duster save for the addition of automatic variant to Duster list. While Duster Automatic is still far from reality we are happy that Renault finally sensed the palpable urge of hard-core off roaders and launched this AWD version. As the name suggests Duster AWD in essence is 4-wheel drive version of Duster and unlike the ordinary front-wheel driven Duster, this variant is capable of sending power to all the wheels. However unlike any hard-core off roader Duster AWD doesn’t come with high-low range transfer case though it tries to mask up this deficiency through Lock mode that can be accessed at low speeds. So how good is all new Duster AWD? Will it be able to tackle all the off-road shit that an avid adventurist is bound to throw on to it? We find in this road test review.
Duster AWD: Venturesome driving experience
All-Wheel Drive Hardware
First up, we delve right into details of all-wheel drive (AWD) hardware that Renault Duster is proudly purporting. Usually 4X4 vehicles come with high-low range transfer case that indicates the solid off-road credential as torque multiplies in low-range option. Instead what Duster AWD has got is electronically operated AWD option detecting the torque requirement of individual wheels with help of sensors and distribute accordingly. There is dial down the centre console with three options – 2WD, Auto or lock option.
On-the-fly shift options of 2WD, AWD and Lock
In 2WD Duster AWD behaves as ordinary Duster with power channelizing to front wheels of the SUV. There is lock option that transfer power to all wheels of Duster when engaged though it remains functional only up to speed of 60km/h. It tries to emulate low-range of transfer case and is recommended only in serious off-roading. The moment Duster crosses aforementioned mark, Auto option kicks in automatically to take on the charge of proceedings. Depending upon the surface and subsequently arising torque requirement Auto option distribute and sends torque to rear wheels in case it detect the loss of traction at front wheels. Duster AWD may lack the Hi-Low range option of a typical hard-core off roader like Jeep or Safari Storme, still its capabilities of AWD is good enough to meet nearly 90% requirements of off-roading. What further aids to off-road credential of Duster AWD is huge ground clearance of 210 mm; 4 mm up from the normal Duster.
1.5-litre dCi, 110 PS engine with no cover
Power to Duster AWD is outsourced from similar 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, dCi diesel engine that alos does duty in normal Duster. However unlike the two states of tune available in ordinary version, Duster AWD is propelled by higher 110 PS variant of this K9K oil burner. Max Power is rated at 110 PS@4000 rpm while max torque of 245 Nm peaks @1750 rpm. The same power and torque figures in ordinary Duster stand at 110 PS@3900 and 248 Nm @2250 rpm. Now despite of the lowered torque by 3 Nm, the real difference that Duster AWD comes equipped with is lower rpm of 1750 compared to 2250 rpm of ordinary where the max torque peaks. This has made a sea level of difference in actual road performance of Duster AWD where the overall conduct of AWD version is far more competent than ordinary one. Leave aside AWD performance, in 2WD mode, Duster AWD feels much smooth and drivable than ordinary Duster. Even we pulled Duster AWD from 30 km/h in 3rd gear from almost halted position and it obliged without throwing any tantrums of bickering or stalling. We wish next facelift of ordinary Duster to get this tuning state of engine that is this Duster AWD features. We also sense that short-gearing used in this AWD version is sure to appease the masses because most of the time even the hard core off-roaders have to face the atrocities of the city traffic.
6-speed gearbox; lift the collar to engage the reverse of extreme left
Coupled with 6-speed manual transmission, Duster shifts seem a bit harder than what we usually encounter in vehicles. These require a bit amount of shove and the overall experience is not as smooth as of Germans or even Japanese. Clutch has been reworked and now feels a bit light in its approach. Unlike the first drive we had in Duster two years back where it felt horribly heavy, this time we negotiated it with ease. Clutch travel has average range and won’t worry most of ordinary folks. On safety front there are lots of equipment Duster AWD has got; especially in braking department. In addition to disc up front and drum at back, there is additional support of ABS and EBD. The spongy feel of ordinary Duster has thankfully been removed in this AWD as brake modulation and the overall effect comes as very inspiring.
Suspense Behind Suspension
Another important addition that has been instrumental in adding to go-anywhere credential of Duster AWD is new independent rear suspension that has replaced the torsion beam of the ordinary model. The imminent effect is perceptible with further improvement in already stellar ride quality along with notching up of handling aspect by few bars.
Independent rear suspension: aiding off-road comfort
Thanks to the new suspension hardware Duster feels like a hovercraft wafting through the air irrespective of nature of road. Duster suspension soaks like nothing else and the ride comfort even in the challenging terrain is non-issue for the Duster. Another stronghold of duster that has been retained in AWD version is electro-hydraulic power steering that though feels light in the city manoeuvring weights up incredibly out on highways to satiate the driver with enough of feedback.
Soft-pliant riding edge; one of the best-in-class
Wide tracks further help in highways stability though rolling starts intruding in a bit when Duster is chucked around the corner. ARAI certified figures of 19.72 km/l for this AWD version is impressive and even surges ahead of 19.01 km/l that 110 PS version of normal Duster comes with. There is convenience of cruise control on top variant RxZ that is complemented by very useful speed-limit feature. Button on centre console operates these modes and both cruise control and speed-limiter varies in increments of 2km/h.
What’s New Inside
While the overall lay-out and design theme remained intact, Duster AWD does feature some perceptible deviations from its ordinary version. Dash board is dipped in new colours and come out with black-grey posture in contrast to black-beige of ordinary Duster. In fact we feel that combination of black-beige feels more plush than this black-grey as latter one fails to impress with its overall texture. There is no quality or soft-touch feel anywhere in sight and overall sense gratification is way off it should be in vehicle bordering on around Rs 14 lakh price point.
Functional yet average quality cabin
Black glossy finished centre stack houses a 2-DIN audio system though top-of-the-line RxZ variant got “MediaNav” system folding tripe functions of multi-media, navigation and Bluetooth into one. However the glaring omission of automatic climate control even on top variant is indefensible especially considering the hefty price tag that Renault demands for this version. Switches quality and tactility is not out of the world though they don’t disappoint either. Despite of being neatly laid-out there is immense lack of premium feel that must prevail in plenty at this price point. A more focussed approach on material selection, quality control and stitching operation could have made the difference here.
Hardwearing and dust-proof upholstery
Grey seat upholstery with red-brick inserts feels quite endurable and should stood test of time. The dark shade makes these seats less prone to dirt and the overall space won’t give any chance of complaint to occupants. Side bolstering feels adequate on sides though on base it falls short to hold passengers snugly. Rear seat space is ample too and being strictly 5-person carrier, Duster frees up lot of trunk at the rear too. The amount of all sorts of room at the rear seat is quite enough for normal requirement of family though raised transmission tunnel does intrude into comfort of middle passenger.
Wide rear bench with firm cushioning
Seat squab is long enough to extend enough support and recline angle too has been spot-on. Top version got the centre armrest with cup-holders that are useful bit in the long drives. However we find the seats cushioning a bit firm that is good for the highway long hours driving but could act as impediments for short city stint. Storage space of 410 litres is large enough to swallow litres of luggage and adding to convenience of loading-unloading is raised stance of floor. Spare wheel too has been moved to under the trunk while in ordinary Duster it is located beneath the body.
How It Looks Outside
Well the outside changes are dominated by the inserts of AWD badging abound on Duster AWD. Smoked headlamps in contrast to ordinary Duster looks classy and serves well to differentiate both personalities. Except for this alteration overall frontage wears the similar look of ordinary Duster with multi-chrome slated grille complemented by wide shouldered posture.
Smoked headlamps signals arrival of AWD variant
In profile blackened B-pillar and anthracite treated alloy wheels catch the attention along with racy AWD badging. However the stickers are prone to shredding and require some protective filming if one wants them to last long. Muscular and beefy wheel arches oozes plenty of manly character and is sure to remain one of the strongest points of this SUV.
AWD decals at base and at D-pillar
Rear is virtually same as of normal version save for AWD badging engraved right below the trim level. Top RxZ variant got 3 rear parking sensors that is strange deviation from the standard number of 4 that we usually find in most of the vehicles.
4WD badging below variant detail
Overall Duster has only added cosmetic bits to its design legacy and very deliberately steered clear of making any comprehensive panel change. This is indeed a wise move given the vast majority of people that swear by Duster’s hunched figure and athletic proportions. All dimensional equality has been retained in AWD version except for higher ground clearance of 210 mm which is up by 5mm. A natural increase in gross vehicle weight to the tune of around 100 kg makes AWD RxZ variant weights at 1874 kg while corresponding ordinary Duster variant pins the scale 1781 kg. There has been no change in wheelbase and overall length too remains unchanged.
Renault Duster AWD is available only with diesel engine in RxL and range topping RxZ variants at ex-showroom price of Rs 11.89 lakh and Rs 12.99 lakh for Delhi respectively. On value for money Duster fails to mustard much appreciation as in this price range one can even buy much better hard-core SUVs’ with better space and quality interiors. However the city practicality and blotless track record of Duster weighs heavily in this SUV favour. Renault has been successful in establishing great brand repute for Duster and this legacy is sure to come handy in sale of Duster AWD. Further through this AWD version Renault has finally heeded to the strong demand for rugged SUV that chunk of enthusiasts’ were clamouring for years. AWD hardware of Duster is quite capable of satiating its target customers and electronic AWD is spot-on in reacting appropriately to most of the contingencies inflicted by daredevil moves. We wish it to be priced a bit lower but then selecting venturesome approach to otherwise mundane driving should cost some extra bucks.
Style & Substance 4/5 Ride & Handling 4/5
Interiors & Ergonomics: 3.5/5 Safety & Equipment 3.5/5
Power-Plant & Transmission 3.5/5 Fuel Efficiency 4/5
Value for Money 3/5